If there is a problem with 'skunk' in Britain, then it is successive governments and their foolhardy drugs policies that have caused it.
In recent years there has been a lot of press coverage claiming cannabis has changed and is now far more harmful than it used to be. Cannabis certainly has changed but it's important to understand how and why.
20 years ago most of the cannabis on sale in the UK was hashish, mostly imported from Morocco. Herbal cannabis was much less common.
Hashish is a concentrated form of cannabis, the resin rubbed or sifted from the plant and compressed into blocks or slabs of dense brown or black material. Because of the global war against cannabis this supply was reduced through the 1990s and the demand was filled by a new source of supply, herbal cannabis grown indoors under lights, the so-called 'skunk'.
The claim often made about skunk is that it is very much stronger than the hashish we used to import from North Africa. The truth is far more complex.
Cannabis is not a simple, one molecule drug like alcohol, cocaine or heroin. It contains more than 400 different compounds, the most important of which are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The relative proportions of these are crucial to the effect of cannabis. It is this that has changed with the predominance of skunk.
THC is the component that produces most of the 'high' but CBD is important because it counterbalances the effect of THC and makes it more mellow and pleasant. The hashish from North Africa was often as high in THC as is skunk but also included high levels of CBD. Skunk usually has very little CBD.
The problem is that a very small minority of people may be at risk of mental health problems from cannabis which contains high levels of THC without the balancing effects of CBD.
The ratio of THC to CBD is determined mostly by the type or strain of plant and also by how it is grown. CBD develops later in the life of the plant and so criminal gangs, growing for maximum profit, harvest earlier and produce cannabis with less CBD.
So the changes that have happened to the cannabis available in Britain are entirely caused by the laws against it. It was prohibition that created the market for skunk by choking off the supplies of imported hashish. Skunk cannabis is a product of prohibition, one of the many unintended consequences caused by irrational and dangerous drugs policies.
So when government or the media claims that cannabis is more harmful than it used to be they fail to recognise that in the 5,000 or so years of recorded history of cannabis this change has only occurred in the years since prohibition was introduced. If a problem exists, they caused it.
Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR, said:
"The government claims that cannabis is a controlled drug but nothing could be further from the truth. Prohibition places all the control in the hands of violent, profit hungry criminals. We must ensure that the huge demand for cannabis is met with a safer product. We could have labels specifying the contents of THC, CBD and the other components. It really is time we took responsibility for this multi-billion pound market and regulated it properly"
Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) is a political party registered with the Electoral Commission under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) to promote the cause of cannabis law reform, with the aim of replacing the anarchic mess of prohibition with a framework of real legal control which would allow proper control of the trade, ensure proper regulation of the product in terms of strength and purity and provide proper protection for vulnerable people such as children.
If you would like more information on this topic or an other aspect of the work of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), or to arrange an interview with Peter Reynolds please contact him on 07880 872022